Sex offenders: is there a male bias?
January 21, 2013 5:51 PM   Subscribe

I know there may be no way to know this for sure, but my impression is that there are more male pedophiles, and in general more male sex offenders than female ones. Is there any way to ascertain this?

I maintain a longstanding local news blog. Recently I linked to a news report on homeless people taking shelter in the library. Someone commented that the library would no longer be safe for kids and I responded something in passing about being fairly sure lone men wouldn't be allowed to lurk around the kids' section of the library.

Others countered my statement, one saying "Why not lone women?" and another "Sex offenders aren’t predominantly male… those that are reported are predominantly male." I don't know whether this is true, or whether it's an unverifiable myth.

Is there any way to arrive at a reasonable statement of the truth about this? (I am not trying to troll for trouble, simply hoping to find a credible response to this discussion on my blog.)
posted by zadcat to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, "sex offenders" is an extremely wide category. Everything from violent rapists, to 19-year-olds dating 16-year-olds (depending on jurisdiction). Do you mean child molesters/pedophiles?
posted by supercres at 5:58 PM on January 21, 2013

According to StateCan 97% of people accused of sexual offences are male. The report does look into officially reported and unofficially reported cases.
posted by saucysault at 5:59 PM on January 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

16 page report on female sexual offenders which notes that when you survey victims of sexual crimes, the perpetrators in their stories contain a much higher proportion of women than reflected by arrest data, which suggests that women may actually offend at (closer to) comparable rates but just not get reported. It also considers a few possible reasons that might happen.
posted by d. z. wang at 6:16 PM on January 21, 2013 [10 favorites]

The linked report does not suggest that women may offend at comparable rates. It does, however, answer your question.
posted by Wordwoman at 6:29 PM on January 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

It's very tough to answer, and I don't know the answer. There's a dilemma here. On one hand, we want to know the truth, and what's the best way to find the truth? Just look up the statistics, right? But what are those statistics about? They're not about everything that happens; they're based on actual criminal cases that have been reported, pursued by police, etc. So you can say the statistics show a certain percentage of them are men, just like you can say that statistics show a certain percentage of people who commit sex offenses or any other crime are of a certain race. But should you assume that there's no racial bias in what crimes are reported, taken seriously by police, etc.? Probably not: police may have a racial basis, and so can informants. Same goes for gender. In fact, I'd argue that the effect is much stronger for gender. After all, I've never heard anyone say that all criminals are black (or Hispanic). Any police officer knows that there are plenty of white criminals out there. But you often hear people suggest that all or almost all criminals are men. (Case in point: just look at this thread.) I've never heard anyone laugh at the idea that a white person could be a criminal; I have heard people laugh at the idea that a woman can commit sexual assault. When you're talking about something that many people just don't take seriously as something that could possibly be a cause for concern, I think there's good reason to be deeply suspicious of these kinds of statistics.

The linked report does not suggest that women may offend at comparable rates. It does, however, answer your question.

Yeah it does: "reviews of multiple sources of victimization data reveal that up to 63% of female victims and as many as 27% of male victims report having been sexually victimized by a female (see, e.g., Schwartz & Cellini, 1995)." That suggests women may offend at comparable rates. Whether that's actually true is another question.
posted by John Cohen at 7:17 PM on January 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

But it then goes on to say women may act alone in up to 6% of sexual assaults, and then describes the male-coerced women identified as sexual offenders as both victims and victimizers (often against their own children). Their statistics, by the way, reply on multiple reporting systems, not just police reports.
posted by saucysault at 9:12 PM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

I'm with saucysault and Wordwoman: if you read the relevant parts carefully, that report does not imply that there are a similar number of female sex offenders as there are male sex offenders.

"Sex offenders aren’t predominantly male… those that are reported are predominantly male." I don't know whether this is true, or whether it's an unverifiable myth.

I think it will be very hard to get an answer to this question. By definition, if something goes unreported, then there is no official record of it having happened. It is therefore almost impossible to know how many female sex offenders go unreported.

That said, I don't think it's a huge logical leap from 'those sex offenders that are reported are predominantly male', to 'therefore sex offenders are predominantly male', when the 'predominantly' in the first statement refers to a figure as large as 98%.

(Statistics from Australia: you could probably find similar for the US.)
posted by Salamander at 10:22 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Good luck using nuance to address this. It exists in a tornado of noise and nuance is a whisper. Whatever you say about this (including what I'm about to say) will net you full internet hysteria based on the subject. Any view you express is wrong to someone. At least that's how it seems to me.

Paying attention to the cases in my state (my spouse is a criminal defense attorney), the defendants are almost, but not quite, exclusively male. I can see several reasons. One is mechanics. Men penetrate. They also leave identifiable residue. The former is exclusively male, and the latter is for the most part true. Convicting someone is easier if the someone is male due to hard evidence issues. The victim is often damaged, too, setting off an alarm for detection. Not sure that applies when women engage in pedophilia, and I have trouble even figuring out how they would do that, anyway. The high school kids seduced by female teachers you hear about all the time seem to have the problem that the boys might be willing victims to some extent.

There are a fair number of women who enable, permit, tolerate, ignore their mate's crimes, and I'd put that in the category of abuse, but it's not the same thing. Someone else does the deed.

I don't think it's a case of under-reporting, though. The vast difference between the sexes in the prison population seems to point at men. Frankly, I don't know what else you'd use except uniform crime stats, anyway. They are what they are, and everything else is explanation, not data.

Again, if you are relying on the measured intellect of the population to parse this, you stand on a membrane of ice molecules thick. Armed with unassailable data, you stand naked before a sandblaster of opinion and bias. I don't know what the truth is, but I do see how it will never be granted a hearing by the public.
posted by FauxScot at 4:02 AM on January 22, 2013

In the case of statutory rape, we are much quicker to condemn predatory male teachers that abuse innocent little girls than we are to properly discuss dirty schoolmistresses that have their end away with lucky teenage boys fwoar I'll have a bit of that etc. etc. I would imagine that male victims of statutory rape go very undereported - as a society we see girls as helpless creatures who have to fight for their innocence, but boys as unstoppable sex-mad lads being lads, unless the offence involves two males in which case it fits the narrative of the 'predatory homosexual'.
posted by mippy at 6:35 AM on January 22, 2013

It's kind of irrelevant to public policy (like "no lone adults in the children's section of the library") what the gender proportion of child sexual abusers actually is. You can't make gender-specific policies in a public library.

In any case, I would question strongly the idea that the homeless population contains a higher percentage of child sexual abusers than the population at large.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:31 AM on January 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sidhedevil, I don't think it does, but someone on my blog drew a direct line between an allegation in the original article (here) about one homeless man being seen with his hands down his pants, and an increased hazard for children using the library.

In fact, a simpler case could be made here based on the observable fact that there are more homeless men than women. Yes, I know there are homeless women and they're probably less visible, but I think numbers show that there are more male itinerants here generally.
posted by zadcat at 12:03 PM on January 22, 2013

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